Monthly Archives: April 2017

Why this former Facebook Messenger product manager is investing in AI


Outsourcing, automation, and connecting strangers on chat apps are among some of the biggest opportunities in conversational commerce forming around chat app platforms, former Facebook Messenger product manager turned investor Seth Rosenberg told VentureBeat.

Last Wednesday, amid a rush of Facebook news from F8, Greylock Partners announced that Rosenberg would join its consumer investment team to make seed or early round investments in startups working with bots, AI, messaging, AR/VR, and other fields.

Until late last year, Rosenberg had been part of the Messenger team working with businesses and a developer community to create a bot ecosystem for the Messenger Platform. During Rosenberg’s three years at Messenger, the chat app launched its bot and game platforms and grew from 200 million to more than one billion monthly active users.

About the series of changes made this week to increase the discoverability of bots on Messenger — the new discover tab for popular or featured bots, chat extensions to bring bots to groups, bots for Workplace by Facebook — Rosenberg said he wasn’t surprised, and that in this case it’s good to be predictable.

“It was really a signal of reinvestment in the platform and tools that were universally requested and practically useful. Every year you don’t want some kind of ‘this is the future of world’ bomb drop,” he said. “It’s kind of refreshing actually for everyone involved to not be super surprised by some of the announcements. Like ‘OK, they’re doubling down on the same platform, they built a lot of tools based on feedback we’ve given them,’ and people are starting to get more visibility to it, which is helpful.”

He told VentureBeat he’s interested in investing in companies making services to connect people outside of each other’s network for platforms like Messenger, WeChat, Kakao, and Line.

Companies that connect people include visual A-B test bot Swelly, as well as bots like NearGroup and Foxsy that connect people interested in dating or making friends nearby.

“It’s still an open space for using messaging to connect with people that are not in your close network,” Rosenberg told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “A lot of people have tried this, but nothing has really taken off yet.”

Above: Left to right: Wingstop CIO Stacey Peterson, Facebook Messenger Product Manager Seth Rosenberg, Fandango SVP Mark Young, and panel moderator Stewart Rogers of VentureBeat. Panel participants discussed opportunities and challenges in commerce and bots at MobileBeat, a two-day chatbot and artificial intelligence gathering held July 12-13 at The Village in San Francisco.

Image Credit: Michael O’Donnell / VentureBeat

Rosenberg also believes there are big opportunities on chat platforms for communication within and between businesses because “email is still the default.”

“There are obviously companies like Slack and Microsoft Teams, but beyond the Silicon Valley bubble, email is still the way businesses communicate with each other. And I still believe there’s something [there for] either those companies or others who tackle it in a slightly different way or who tackle verticals like SMBs or have more of a hybrid approach to messaging,” he said.

Rosenberg sees chat platforms as a vehicle for automation and outsourcing in the workplace, with the potential to “unlock a distributed sales force on mobile.” The most interesting of these companies fuel entrepreneurship that could play a big role in the way people work and think about work.

Several startups in enterprise and other businesses are working on such services. On Friday, Magic launched a bot to complete office tasks in a Slack channel for $ 35 an hour. The now-defunct Tina assistant bot connected a Slack channel to a network of tens of thousands of freelancers in the Philippines to complete administrative tasks. TARA bot automates recruitment and project management.

Other companies exploring the chat gig economy include Ask Wiz, which currently allows tech experts to accept tips from $ 2 to $ 10. There’s Sensay, which intends to allow its anonymous advice givers to get paid, and therapeutic and medical chat services from Talkspace and HealthTap.

Rosenberg sees both pitfalls and opportunity in the way tech is reshaping the workplace for many people.

“You have essentially a fork in the road where on one hand you can have a large group of people that are kind of left behind in this new economy, and it can lead to unhappiness and societal unrest and drug problems and political issues and war and conflict and Brexit, and you’re starting to see signals of that right now. But the other fork in the road is that services like Etsy, Uber, and Shopify are building tools to enable micro entrepreneurship, and they’re replacing giant corporations that you worked at for 40 years in a cubicle, and you can actually replace that with something better where people have more control of their time but still have the same level of security, just through more distributed services.”

“That’s one kind of outcome of AI that I think is interesting to invest in, which is the future of work,” he concluded.

Social – VentureBeat

LinkedIn passes 500 million member milestone


Giant cloud-based resume repository LinkedIn announced that it now has 500 million members spread across 200 countries.

For context, the company announced 400 million members back in October 2015, and 450 million members in August 2016. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story — at last count, only 25 percent of LinkedIn’s members were active on the platform every month. With this latest announcement, LinkedIn hasn’t revealed how many of the 500 million are monthly active users (MAUs), but it’s probably safe to assume that the previous 25 percent figure remains about the same.

After its $ 26 billion acquisition by Microsoft last year, LinkedIn is no longer a public company, so we may not ever get a breakdown of its active users, unless Microsoft decides to do so as part of its own earnings. As it happens, LinkedIn has lost $ 100 million since it was bought out by Microsoft.

Social – VentureBeat

Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino sparks social media backlash from baristas


(Reuters) – Starbucks baristas have taken to social media to complain about the coffee chain’s entry into the latest food craze: Unicorn Frappuccino.

The sparkly color-changing frozen beverage has become one of the top posts on photo-sharing platforms such as Instagram since its release on Wednesday.

But Starbucks baristas are not happy with the popularity.

Complaints have been rolling in on social media website Reddit Inc, with one barista calling the new beverage “Frap from hell” and others sharing the joy of running out of ingredients to make the drink.

Another barista shared an image of 56 Unicorn Frappuccinos that constituted one order, and others gave thanks to customers with simple orders like a black coffee.

On Twitter, just hours after the release of the new drink, Starbucks barista Braden Burson shared a 100-second tirade, saying he had “never been so stressed out in his life.” His post was shared more than 1,000 times.

“I have never made so many Frappuccinos in my entire life,” he said in the clip.

“My hands are completely sticky. I have unicorn crap all in my hair, on my nose. I have never been so stressed out in my entire life.”

A barista from Florida, Tina Lee, wrote: “As a barista, just know that every time you ask me to make this, a part of me dies #unicornfrappuccino.”

The drink is available only until Sunday.

Above: A barista makes a Unicorn Frappuccino beverage at a Starbucks coffeehouse in Austin, Texas, U.S. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed

“We’ve seen tremendous positive feedback on the Unicorn Frappuccino from both customers and partners (employees/baristas),” said Starbucks spokesperson when asked if the company is aware of complaints from its baristas.

Starbucks shares closed up 0.9 percent at $ 60.61 on Friday.

(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

Social – VentureBeat

Q&A app Quora valued around $1.8 billion in $85 million fundraise

 Quora just became the unicorn of subjective human knowledge. After eight years carefully cultivating an intelligent question and answer community, it’s just raised an $ 85 million Series D round co-led by Collaborative Fund and Y Combinator’s Continuity Fund. Read More
Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Gladly, incubated at Greylock, nabs $36 million in Series C funding

 There’s no shortage of customer service startups trying to meet the changing expectations of consumers, who want to Tweet, phone, text and use Facebook Messenger, among other newer ways to get their points across. That hasn’t deterred Joseph Ansanelli, who joined Greylock Partners in 2012 but who’d first started and sold three companies and was itching to do it again. Read More
Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Steve Wozniak discusses how Apple is becoming Microsoft, commercial space travel, and more


There would be no Apple without Steve Wozniak.

Wozniak, who co-founded Apple over 40 years ago with the late Steve Jobs, remains a revered figure in Silicon Valley. Although he is no longer connected with Apple, he keeps busy making appearances at big tech conferences to inspire inventors, serves as chief scientist for the enterprise data storage startup Primary Data, and even found time to cha-cha-cha on the TV show Dancing With The Stars a few years ago.

On Friday, Wozniak returns to the upcoming Silicon Valley Comic Con event where pop culture fans, celebrities, and technologists will celebrate “the nerd side of things,” as he put it. In this edited interview with Fortune, Wozniak discusses how his former company is acting like Microsoft, the influence of money in Silicon Valley, and being an introvert in the social networking era.

Fortune: How has the tech landscape changed over the years?

Wozniak: When Steve and I started Apple we were so naïve and young. We didn’t know anything about business. We didn’t know that it’s often the case that you start a company and then you get bought out as an exit strategy. We thought that you start at home, you make a product, and become profitable so you have your company forever. As long as it makes a profit, it never goes away. That’s how I thought companies worked. Boy, it’s a different story now in Silicon Valley.

I think there are an awful lot of people who have a quick exit plan like selling the business to another big company to get enough money to buy a house in San Francisco. Then they move on to the next one. There are many companies that are started by business people and not engineers. Engineers say, “What would be a cool product? What would make the world greater and better?” That’s where I come from.

Engineering is your line of work.

I do not invest. I don’t do that stuff. I didn’t want to be near money, because it could corrupt your values.

What are your thoughts on the rise of engineers as rock stars in Silicon Valley?

Mostly it’s because of how much money they have—and I went the other way. I did not want to be one of them. I invested early in things like museums in the city I love, San Jose. I was born there, and I have a street named after me there because of it. I really didn’t want to be in that super “more than you could ever need” category.

Did you ever think when you were starting Apple that software companies like Facebook would become so dominant?

Well, there was Microsoft. I was just on CNBC and they were asking, “Oh, my gosh. Apple wants to make this software and license it for self-driving cars.” Well, Apple’s becoming Microsoft. Microsoft had an operating system that was their crown jewel and they licensed it to everybody. Apple said no—they had to make the hardware. Hardware and software have to go together [in computers], but not so in cars.

What is your take on commercial space travel and people like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk getting involved?

Nobody expected the iPhone. Nobody expected Google. Nobody expected Facebook and Twitter would be these great things. It is really hard to predict with a spreadsheet what makes sense, otherwise big companies that already existed would have created those things. Of course SpaceX [Musk’s space startup] and Blue Origin [Bezos’ space startup], they’re not coming out of nowhere, but they’re coming out of individuals trying to do something very risky.

It is very risky, but it is fascinating to watch what these companies are doing.

Yeah, space exploration comes down to engineering and scientific knowledge. It does take a certain amount of funding, but NASA’s budget seems so small for what they bring us. It just seems so small that I’m not surprised that large private players can make a difference too.

You recently said that companies like Apple and Google would be even bigger in 2075 than they are now. Do you think these companies will do so by expanding into other areas, like how Google and Apple are moving into healthcare?

I don’t know. Every company should do what they’re good at. There are actors who are just good at acting. Everyone shouldn’t try to do every single thing in the world, and Apple’s big thing, really, is more about protecting the brand. Making products a certain way that protects your brand. That’s one role. That’s one key role in the world, and it doesn’t mean making every single product. Everyone who owns Apple shares just says, “No, no, no, you gotta have something new now.” Well that’s Silicon Valley in that you’re always chasing the next new thing and you never get to stop. I mean unless you’re somewhat smart.

Why is your Twitter feed essentially a timeline of places you’ve visited and restaurants you’ve eaten at?

I am not the right person for social networks. I was never social in my life. I am not good at socializing in person.

I skipped Facebook and I skipped Twitter when it came out, because I’d wind up with everybody asking me to be a friend. I have 5,000 Facebook friends I don’t know, and I’m going to scan what they’re doing in their lives everyday? It doesn’t work well for me because I won’t just cut it down to the only 100 people I really know.

But I found Foursquare. I was actually in Spain and some young kids introduced me to Foursquare, so I started checking in. I thought, “My wife will be able to see where I am.” But if I check into a restaurant and somebody comments on it, I get that comment in an email from Facebook. So I typically have 100 to 200 Facebook inquires a day, and some of those I go in and answer when I feel my answer’s important.

It’s interesting that you prefer Foursquare over other social networks.

It’s kind of one directional, and Twitter can be one-directional. To tell you the truth, I admire what Twitter is and what it’s done for the world. And I admire Facebook, but I’m a little scared of the power Facebook and Google get and I avoid them more than most people. My calendar is on Google and about nothing else of me wants to touch Google. When I get these advertisements all over the place and they’re exactly what I’ve been looking at recently, you’re living in my world. You’re making it stale. That’s not the adventurous world of going and watching a new movie with superheroes achieving victory.

Well, that’s a realistic application of artificial intelligence today.

That’s today’s level of simulated intelligence to kind of knowing you. The funny thing is, everyone in popular culture movies has to be an individual—to be above the others, to be super. And that’s how we think of ourselves as human beings. Well what am I? I’m what’s in my brain. I have my memories, my feelings, my way of thinking of the world. And that’s who I am

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017

Social – VentureBeat

Swingvy raises $1.1M to give HR staff in Southeast Asia a break from paperwork

 Human resources paperwork is never fun to take care of—especially if it’s literally on paper. Swingvy co-founder Jin Choeh says that in Southeast Asia, many small businesses are still stuck with physical spreadsheets and piles of forms. Swingvy wants to help them with affordable cloud-based software. The South Korea and Malaysia-based startup just raised $ 1.1 million in seed funding… Read More
Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

In 2017, only 17% of startups have a female founder

 The percentage of startups that have at least one female founder was flat in the first quarter of 2017. For those who are keeping track, that’s nearly five years with no percentage growth in women-founded venture-backed startups. Read More
Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

SHARE: Spring Clean With a Conscience

SHARE: Spring Clean With a Conscience

Written by Tiffany Rose

Spring is here, and while there are flowers blooming, ducklings following their mothers, and vegan BBQs on the horizon, it’s also time for the tradition of spring cleaning—ugh.

If you’re like me, cleaning isn’t exactly your idea of fun, but considering that the end result is a house I’d actually feel comfortable entertaining in, I can get a bit excited about the whole process—especially because I know that I’ll be doing it the right way: compassionately.

Given the number of cruelty-free options out there, it’s hard to believe that every year, hundreds of thousands of animals are exploited in archaic and deadly tests for consumer products around the world. Living beings are isolated in barren cages, chemicals are smeared into their eyes or onto their skin, or they’re forced to inhale or swallow massive quantities of harsh substances—among many other barbaric tests—before they’re eventually killed.

We know that these tests are cruel and that superior methods exist—which is why 2,400 companies (and counting) have made the compassionate decision to be cruelty-free.

Here’s the exciting part: As consumers, we get to vote with our dollars. Don’t want animals to be tortured for cleaning products? Don’t buy the ones that use animal tests! Choose cruelty-free products like those listed below, or check to see whether your favorite cleaning-supply companies test on animals.

And don’t stop there: Right click to download this image and upload it to other social media sites to share with friends and family so that they, too, can clean up the compassionate way. Sometimes, all people need is a little nudge in the right direction.

Want to do more to help animals?

The post SHARE: Spring Clean With a Conscience appeared first on PETA.

Action – PETA

United Airlines and Cleveland Facebook Live killing reveal the best and worst of social media


Social media gets something of a bad rap for its always-on flow of information that gives everyone a voice, even if they don’t have anything of much consequence to say.

Sometimes we’re reminded of the true power Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the like have to capture and communicate important messages that may otherwise have been lost. Other times, we’re reminded that social media is capable of capturing events that have no place on a public forum.

Two incidents in particular from the past week help illustrate social media at its best and at its worst.

Last week, United Airlines hit the headlines over the way it forcibly removed a passenger from one of its planes after it failed to find volunteers willing to give up their seat on an overbooked a flight. A number of videos captured from the plane were shared on social media almost immediately, revealing to the world the potential horrors that await United Airlines passengers who “refuse to volunteer” to be “re-accommodated.”

On the one hand, the videos made for disturbing viewing — a grown man screaming and bloodied, yanked from a flight he’d paid for by cops at the request of a billion-dollar corporate giant. It wasn’t pleasant to watch, but it helped highlight why social media can be an immensely powerful force. Without smartphones and social media, the incident would not have garnered the global attention it subsequently received, and United Airlines would not have been forced to reconsider its procedures for managing overbooked flights. And the Chicago Police would presumably not have suspended the officers responsible.

On the flip side, as I write this, police in Cleveland, Ohio are hunting for a man who broadcast himself on Facebook Live as he killed a stranger at random. This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened, either. And the video remained online for hours after the shooting before Facebook finally removed it from the suspect’s Facebook Page.

Everyone now has a smartphone in their pocket, meaning everyone has the potential to be a journalist and a one-person film crew — recent history is awash with examples of ordinary people who have captured major events and shared them with the world.

But as United Airlines strives to overhaul its company policies and practices in the wake of damning media coverage captured by a handful of citizen hacks, the Cleveland killing has given us a stark reminder that in the wrong hands, social media really can be the darkest of forces.

Social – VentureBeat